For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. — Aristotle
There is an intriguing, almost illogical mishna attributed to the sage, Rabbi Hanina son of Dosa (Avot 3:9) that states as follows:
Whoever’s actions are greater than his intelligence, his intelligence will be established. But whoever’s intelligence is greater than his actions, his intelligence will not be established.
The Sfat Emet in 5644 (1884) questions the logic of this statement. If someone doesn’t have the requisite intelligence to do a certain action, in this case, the commandments, how can he perform it and how then is his intelligence suddenly increased? Likewise, if someone has more than enough intelligence to perform the commandments he does, but does not exercise this capacity fully, why should his intelligence be diminished?
He then goes on to explain, what many of us understand, that some things can only be learned by doing them, by first attempting them. However, he explains that even if we don’t necessarily have the intellectual capacity to grasp all of the laws and details of the commandments, the actual effort of performing them bestows upon us a gift. He claims that our intelligence is expanded, added to, enhanced due to the effort. Trying to do the commandments, even if at the moment it is unclear and we don’t understand it fully, opens up a gate of intelligence that was previously closed off to us.
The flip side is for those possessing sufficient intelligence to understand and perform the commandments that opt not to do so, their intelligence becomes diminished. It is as if they have a muscle that was designed for that purpose, and by not using it, it wastes away.
May we exercise our muscles of intelligence in pursuit of the commandments and merit an expanded and enhanced intelligence for all aspects of our lives.
To the Burcatovski catering team. The work of their hands is divine.